Fundraising Resources for Your Market

By Colleen Donovan & Karen Kinney
Updated: 10-28-2016

Raising external funds to support core operations or programs is a necessity for most farmers markets. WSU’s 2010 farmers market survey found that vendor stall and membership/application fees are the most important source of revenue for 89% of Washington farmers markets. However, only a quarter of markets secured 100% of their market revenue from vendor fees[1].

There’s No Free Money (sorry!)

As anyone involved in fundraising knows, “free” money is a lot of work! And different fundraising strategies require different skills, time, timing, and administrative capacity. There is always an “opportunity cost” for the time your market spends fundraising instead of attending to its core operations. The key is to plan ahead so that your market knows what it is investing in fundraising, especially in terms of people power, and what it hopes to accomplish.

Sometimes a “break-even” fundraising event like a Harvest Dinner may also serve important, non-financial goals such as affirming ties with the business community, retaining or recruiting new volunteers, and building the market’s vendor and shopper base. And don’t forget to include your market’s fundraising expenses and revenue goals in the annual budget.

Fundraising Evaluation Matrix

One way to collectively evaluate “great ideas” (including new grant opportunities) is to agree where it falls in the Fundraising Evaluation Matrix.

captureThe first step is to quantify the investment that the market will need to make, including in-kind contributions. This may come in the form of additional staff time, adding staff work during a critical time in the market season, direct expenses, or rechanneling donations or volunteers’ good will for a fundraising project instead of core market operations. In the case of grants, there is the added administrative work and reporting. And in the case of federal grants, this can be substantial.

The next step is to quantify the projected return your market can reasonably expect from pursuing that fundraising opportunity. If it is a new endeavor and you don’t know, then estimate a range and put the low end of the range into your budget. Here again, consider all of the various types of “returns” to your market.

  • Is it money? If so, how much? And when will your market be able to access the funds?
  • If funding, is it “restricted” to specific budget categories and programs? Or “unrestricted” meaning you can spend it however you need to.
  • Does it invest in longer-term goals such as building visibility for the market that can attract vendors, shoppers, or sponsors?
  • Does it add core shoppers to your market’s mailing list, facilitating direct communication?
  • Does it contribute to a policy goal or advocacy project that your market is working towards?

There is no “right” answer. The purpose of the Matrix is to think through “great ideas” and get everyone affected on the same page and committed.

Fundraising Strategies

The most common fundraising strategies for farmers markets, beyond vendor fees, are sponsorships, fundraising events, and grants. Markets also sell merchandise which tends to function mostly as promotions rather than bringing in the big bucks. Many markets also have “Friends of…” or Community Memberships that can increase their financial support. There are pros and cons to each strategy and what’s right for your market depends on the capacity you have to implement.

Strategy Investment Needed Pros/Cons
Sponsorships Sponsorship “program” with goals, strategy, staff time, sponsorship levels with what sponsor gets; and a “thank you” protocol

Cultivation and outreach to sponsors

Ability to promote sponsor and investment in banner or whatever means market uses

Unrestricted funds

Amounts may be from $100 to 1,000 or more

May be time consuming

Relatively low impact on accounting

Have to renew annually

Vulnerable to economic downturns

Fundraising events Venue and theme and some sort of draw

Event planning skills, including promotions, managing lots of moving parts, and herding volunteers

Connections to chefs, entertainers, or other talent

Infrastructure to pull off event such as tables, chairs, A/V, decorations, etc.

Photographer or videographer to capture event

Appropriate insurance

Thank you’s

Potential for in-kind donations from supporters and vendors

Can be a real crowd-pleaser and community builder; maybe even fun!

Usually labor intensive

Proliferation of farm dinners and similar events increases competition for “foodie” dollar

Returns are unrestricted unless they are being raised for specific program or cause


Grants – private

Major donors

Time and connections to cultivate relationships with private foundations and philanthropists

Projects that meet funders guidelines

Project development and management experience

Being able to fit funded projects into your budget

Reporting to funders

May want personal site visits

May need 501c3 status

Private grants can be unrestricted or restricted – from a foundation or individual, and from modest to incredible amounts.

Individual grants or large donations can be very low maintenance once established.

However, they can be unpredictable too and suddenly change interests or funding plans.

USDA and other Public Grants Most of the above, plus:

Excellent accounting capacity

Strong policies and practices around internal controls

Strong project development skills, especially for multi-year projects

Ability/desire to work with partners

Proposal writing and budgeting skills

Tends to operate on a reimbursement basis so cash flow

Experience with a specialized vocabulary needed to know how to read and interpret RFA

Reports required

Almost always restricted funds

Predictable and usually have consistent funding priorities

Don’t need to be 501c3 to apply

Will fund staffing and some overhead

Can be large grants for multiple years

Friends of the Market and Community Memberships Will need “program” that maps out funding levels and benefits

Excellent information management and database of members

Annual renewals required

Strong “thank you” protocols

Raises unrestricted funds

May help to have 501c3 status

Builds connection to shoppers and other supporters

Whatever your strategies, keep in mind the three golden rules of fundraising.

  1. People give money to people. This means that having a good relationship with the funder or donor is essential to success.
  2. Success breeds success.  People like “winners” and being part of something that has energy and momentum. This means that getting a success (even a small one) needs to be highlighted and used to generate the perception of success.
  3. You have to make the ask.  Many of us tend not to like to ask for anything, let alone money. And yet the most common reason people don’t give, is because they aren’t asked. Likewise, if you have a great market and your enthusiasm shows through, people feel really great about being able to meaningfully help!
Examples of WA FM Fundraising Tools
Project Development Resources
Good Fundraising Resources for Farmers Markets

[1] Summary Report: Farmers Markets and the Experience of Market Managers in Washington State Marcy Ostrom and Colleen Donovan (2013).

Fundraising for Your Farmers Market (Sept 2016)
Downloadable PDF

Timely information, tips, and templates to build your market organization